Categories
R.G. Vasicek

INCARCERATED

You watch me get incarcerated. I say call Ray. I eat peanuts. Practice jump shots. Try on orange jumpsuits. Amerika is a bargain. You get what you pay for. My Ma sends me coupons for Pizza Hut. I get out early because I am an experimental writer. Get out there, the Judge says, do your thing.

We fall into a gravity well. There is a hidden sphere in our apartment. I do jumping jacks in my underwear. You say, Are you happy to see me.

Night keeps getting in the way of day. I cannot wake up. I cannot sleep. Insomnia and other Norwegian ailments. You encourage me to take a flight on Air Cunnilingus. I oblige.

We are like tomatoes on a vine. I love you so much. You say, how much. I say, I just said. And then you squeeze me like ketchup.

Mustard runs in my family. I must warn you. We are hot & spicy. Prepare yourself. There will be vinegar. There will be horseradish.

Factories are making paper clips. Can you imagine the satisfaction? The bending of the wire. The applause of the factory workers.

Get me out of the elevator at The Strand bookstore on Broadway. I want to take the stairs. I want to get a T-shirt. Or a fancy bag.

What do you like better: Spring Street or Prince Street?

Forgetting is essential for memory. If you do not think so, think again.

We should try hanky panky at an earlier hour. Moonbeams keep trying to enter my ass.

Amerika is a smorgasbord.

All my Czech relatives cannot believe I am really here. Times Square 24/7. This is not Prague.

I eat chicken & broccoli in garlic sauce. I eat cold sesame noodles in peanut sauce. I sip ginger ale. My fortune cookie says: Nookie is unlikely.

I throw all the clear plastic packets of sauces into the garbage. I feel so guilty.

I kiss the small of your back. Then I go lower.

We are riding the M-86 Crosstown Bus. Our lives could not be better. We do not know it. Not a single passenger does. You scribble into a notebook. I squeeze your hand.

Time is like a Doomsday Clock. I prefer not to know.

///

R.G. Vasicek is the author of THE DEFECTORS (J.New Books, 2020). He is losing his mind in NYC. He is also becoming a Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine) at @rg_vasicek.

Categories
Elle Nash

THANK YOU, LAUREN GREENFIELD

Some of my earliest memories are of feeling bad. In third grade, the teacher passed around batteries for a science experiment. I don’t remember the science experiment. It seemed like we were all going to do the same thing, but the batteries being handed out were a mix of 9-Volt and smaller, double-A batteries. I got the smaller batteries, and cried because it seemed as though I was being singled out. I had the impression the smaller batteries meant my project would not be as good.

 

An earlier memory, from kindergarten, was in PE. Everyone in the class had to roll from one side of the gym to the other on little blue scooter boards. I wore a pink frilly dress. It kept getting stuck under the wheels of the scooter, so I was slow and got stuck in the middle of the gym. I began scream-crying because I was left behind. Everyone else had made it to the other side. I don’t remember how long I was left there to cry.

 

Sometime after, I stopped wearing dresses. I’d wear shorts and white t-shirts to school, and other kids made fun of me for having chicken legs and knobby knees. I was too thin, I guess, for an eight year old.

 

But being too thin is like being too drunk. Which is to say, it’s not that much of a problem.

 

***

 

Maybe I’ve always been taught to see my depression as selfish.

 

How pretentious can we get?

 

I recently bought myself a flip phone. The kind with flat buttons and no internet access. It keeps me off social media, and also keeps me from obsessively searching for images of early 2000s era “scary skinny” pop stars. The quintessential Mary Kate, post-Simple Life Nicole Richie. Also Paris Hilton, Tara Reid, Mischa Barton. Portia De Rossi. In the early half of the decade, pop magazines were obsessed with the phrase “scary skinny.”

 

I am trying to assess if my current obsession with the late nineties and early 2000s is due to my desire to escape the current time. (Used to be also obsessed with the idea of dating a man who drives a gold Corolla).

 

I am never not myself (which is painful) and I am simultaneously never able to be myself (which is also painful). When I’m hungry I imagine my body is eating itself and it relaxes me.

 

***

 

I had sex today which proves that I can starve myself and still have sex.

 

I am constantly working to prove that starving does not fuck up necessary shit in my life like the functioning of my libido or the way I connect to people.

 

I am trying to convince myself my decision to buy a flip phone was for mental health reasons and not out of a compulsive desire to consume.

 

I can’t sleep.

 

I am wearing gold adidas. I am in a gold Corolla. I am dreaming about these things.

 

***

 

I spend most of my time at night rereading my own experiences. I feel so far from myself or I am trying hard to imagine how you might experience my life, how I or my art might be experienced in your eyes.

 

Of course I know this is impossible and you will lie to me if I ask you about your experience of me. It also feels self-involved to ask you about the ways in which I interest you.

 

I am not ready to discuss how self involved I am.

 

(Curious about the kind of car you drive and whether or not the car is a manual. Is the car rear wheel drive, is it older than 1992?)

 

***

 

I have decided I have late capitalist bulimia in which I purchase many things quickly and then almost immediately regret having consumed these things. I attempt to rid my self of these regrets as quickly as possible by donating old clothes and items that are similar to the items I have purchased in order to assuage the guilt I have contributed to this system.

 

I also might have actual bulimia.

 

I re-watched this documentary from my teenage years called THIN, which came out in 2005. Periodically I research the young women profiled from Renfrew, considered one of the most famous inpatient eating disorder clinics in the country, to see how they’ve survived. My favorite one committed suicide in 2008. My other favorite, the twin, made a blog post, also in 2008, then disappeared for a while. I have watched this movie so many times it reels in my head. I have searched for the young women many times.

 

When I am not sick, I know not to watch it. Like reading Wasted: A Memoir, I know exactly why I watch it and what I am looking for. There is a scene in the movie I can recall with particular clarity: one of the thinnest girls (who is also profiled in the hardbound picture book which accompanies the movie) cries during a group therapy session. She’s in her early or late twenties. She is attempting to warn a much younger girl, sixteen, by describing the experience of bringing “pre-packaged meals” to Thanksgiving dinner, and the separation of eating, of being unable to eat what her family eats, brings her to tears when she describes it. The hair rises on the back of my neck. It fills me with adrenaline, to think about the times I have spent with my family eating separate holiday meals, meals I made just for me, with each calorie counted exactly as it needs to be, to think about the holidays I couldn’t eat separately and so gorged myself gleefully on gravy and potatoes and meat before stealing away to the bathroom, where I had to figure out the most silent way to purge in a relative’s house where every footstep echoed.

 

Am I romanticizing the sickest parts of myself? Is this why I believe recovery to be false?

 

***

 

I’m attending Alcoholics Anonymous to seek therapy for my eating disorder, on Mondays at noon when my partner is at work, so I won’t have to tell him I am going.

 

Sometimes throwing up feels as good as or better than sex because it is extremely personal and ritualized. It is easier for me to vomit when it’s forced than when my body naturally attempts to vomit on its own from nausea or sickness.

 

Lately, I do not want to have sex because I am low energy and the sex seems to be more about the other person rather than about me.

 

The girl from THIN who killed herself purged, too. I am not sure if she considered herself bulimic. There is volatility in purging food, in bulimia, that does not exist within the actions of anorexia. I felt most suicidal when I was purging every day, when it felt that any food in my body was an invasion I kept forcing upon myself.

 

My partner does not know I have relapsed.

 

There is a kind of shame in being bulimic versus being anorexic, even when you are a very thin bulimic. As though there is an unwanted feminine chaos that exists within bulimia.

 

I mean that anorexia is seen as the ideal because it is controlled. It is why the most common depiction of eating disorders on television are of anorexics. As I restrict my intake and attempt to become the idealized version of my self (which is, however, not the idealized version of how society believes women should be), eventually my body can no longer restrict. It can take days to get to this point, or months. I then, unwillingly and also willingly, consume as many calories as possible. I expunge them from my body. The truth comes out: I cannot be controlled. I am actually messy. A garbage person, eating garbage things, and then wasting them. Anorexia is the organized, rational masculine ideal to my unwanted feminine chaos. Maybe that is why it is the more idolized and more glamorized disorder. Maybe that is why bulimics are not seen but instead heard.

 

Forcing myself—to do anything, even what I ultimately want—is something I am used to doing in all of my relationships, including the one I have with myself.

 

***

 

AA meetings are the safest to attend because thin women don’t bother me but eating disordered women will make me want to vomit or starve.

 

If I went to an eating disorder program, I would be pleased because I could revel in my sickness. I would get sicker, even if I gained weight. Weight gain seems to be the only factor, or at least the main factor, in what recovery looks like to eating disorder programs.

 

There is a tendency for anorexics to be extremely proud of their ability to hurt themselves in such a controlled and sustained manner.

 

***

 

The girl from THIN who committed suicide was kicked out of Renfrew because she violated community rules. The therapists and administration called her “tricky.” They said they didn’t trust her. At the beginning of her stay, she pocketed anti-anxiety medication to give to the twin, who hid it in her room. They found the medication during a room check, and determined this was a violation. Then, they learned the girl got a tattoo during an unsupervised outing, which was also a violation.

 

I am inclined to believe another factor in her expulsion is because her weight had stabilized. It was, at least, more stable than other patients. Her insurance had run out, and her mother begged the hospital staff to keep her for another week. The father was footing the bill. The mother said to the hospital staff, This is it for her. The mother said her father would not fund another stay like this again, and there was no one in her home state who could help her the way Renfrew could.

 

I would be interested to know, if she had been more skeletal, how they would have weighed the decision to kick her out. With eating disorders, what factors determine how sick a person is? Is it how I see myself, or is it how you see me?

 

***

 

I am interested in the shape of my thighs when they are around my partner’s waist. They have changed sizes many times. Sometimes his eyes draw to my thigh gap. I think he prefers them when they are at their smallest and I prefer them that way, too.

 

I hate how every time I decide to recover and eat a normal amount I immediately regret my decision to be so square. I bargain with myself: some people drink alcohol to forget. Some people gamble. Some people smoke. Maybe my smoking is that I stop eating, or eat too much and purge. My vice could be that simple if I let it.

 

The truth, though, is that it is not simple. It gets out of hand, it causes problems.

 

I tell myself I should become a nutritionist so I can always be surrounded by the sickness of others.  I could openly obsess about numbers, macros and nutrients. It would give me an excuse to continue unhealthy eating patterns masked as healthy, because I would have to do it for work.

 

They say psychologists study and become psychologists because they are crazy and trying to fix themselves. The level of food obsession in nutritionists I have met makes me assume the same is true. The cross section between therapist and nutritionist must exist: they are trying to convince themselves they’re fine while drenching themselves in the environment of other sick people needing to be fixed. I smell, taste, touch the atmosphere of anorexia and I immediately miss everything about it.

 

A neatly arranged plate of crudités, cutting fruit in half and saving the rest for later, black coffee, high fiber cereal. The way my calves get stretched in long, three p.m. shadows when I take a walk. Pants tight enough to make that little concave void between my legs.

 

***

 

I am always guarded.

 

I still have not told my partner about the AA meetings. If I tell him about the AA meetings, it will imply I have a problem with alcohol when I do not (and if I tell him it is for my relapse, he will know, then, that I have relapsed).

 

I make the assumption he does not want me to have a problem with alcohol because it seems to be a large part of our lives.

 

However, I would rather be around alcohol addicts than purgers or starvers because addiction seems to be the root of the issue. Although I have abused alcohol to lose weight (why eat when you can drink) and have put myself into alcoholic ketoacidosis (alcohol lowers your blood sugar, but if there’s no glucose in your system, the body can shut down) twice trying to lose weight, I do not consider myself an alcoholic or wanting to revel in the sickness of alcohol addiction. I am addicted to bodies. I am addicted to consuming bodies. I am addicted to my body, comparing my body to other sick bodies. I am addicted to consuming things and then ridding myself of them.

 

I sent a version of this essay to my close friend and mentor and she said, it seems you may be addicted to addiction. To identifying as an addict. Perhaps what makes recovery so square is it implies I would no longer harbor a sense of obsession within me. For many years I have felt obsession is the engine with which I move. I enjoy it. It feels good, deliciously painful, to obsess. Especially over things I cannot control.

 

I am very proud of how much vomit is expelled from my body.

 

***

 

My partner’s ex-girlfriend was anorexic and she was also, at one point, my best friend.

 

It is unfair of me to say my partner prefers my thighs when they are smaller. I know I am projecting my own tastes onto him as a way to continue being sick, as a way to continue a nonexistent competition with my once-best friend.

 

Alcoholic ketoacidosis starts as a slow-meld out of body experience. Your systems begin to slow. There is a throbbing. A sense that your mind is living, but your meat package is about to burst. I felt scared at the time, but now I look back on it and think, it could have been peaceful.

 

When I say ‘best friend’ what I mean is we starved together for several years and got to our lowest weights together, before the two were ever dating. It was very romantic. Meaning I romanticized it heavily.

 

The girl from THIN who committed suicide never revealed her tattoo to the Renfrew staff. The tattoo was on her hip, a half-circle, hugged by a swooping, long line; the symbol of eating disorder recovery.

 

Sometimes my partner forgets to eat.

 

***

 

I forgot about the gold Corolla.

 

You do not forget a romance like one that involves your favorite sickness.

 

The twin I loved from THIN has a Facebook profile. I found it last month on my hours long research binge while re-watching the documentary. I was convincing myself treatment wasn’t necessary or that I could sustain this behavior of restricting my calorie intake until it was impossible to fight and then binge-eating and purging to compensate. On the Facebook profile, the only public information the twin revealed was a life event. She’d become an eating disorder counselor at a recovery clinic.

 

Her profile photo is a very thin body in a very fitted dress.

///

Elle Nash is the author of the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books) and the forthcoming story collection Nudes (SF/LD Books, 2021). Her work appears in BOMB Magazine, Hazlitt, Guernica, Literary Hub, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine and a fiction editor at Hobart Pulp. She teaches a biannual workshop called Textures.

Categories
Marcus Pactor

A HISTORY OF PEOPLE

Days into their wandering, they begged for meat. They woke inside a circular fence of neatly stacked packages of steak, quail, and veal. Each package was the size of a toddler’s hand and could be opened with a toddler’s strength. They ate their bounty under every angle of the sun and every angle of the moon. They worried that if they did not continue to eat, the meat would go senselessly to waste. They had trouble distinguishing between worry and want. They ate even when they were full and their vision blurred and their families retreated from the fence to the center of the circle and did not return. No one worried over what fell dead behind them.

Weeks or months into their eating, they found more and more portions of unpackaged meat in their fence. Their first bites revealed tiny bugs inside, scampering against the grain. Soon unpackaged meat was the only meat they found. The President of the United States argued that it tasted better than packaged meat. Not everyone agreed with his assessment, though they did agree it was meat, and no one would consent to let it go to waste. They ate amid a strengthening air of rancidity and decay, perhaps because that air became increasingly natural to them, perhaps because they welcomed the concurrent return of birds. They continued to indulge their want even after their eyes had yellowed, and spots as pink as their teeth pimpled over their skin. Under their skin, chunks of meat scampered like sheeted mice from their stomachs to their shoulders to their hearts and back. Still they tore link upon link of meat fence into their ravening mouths.

Few of them noticed that the fence had expanded outward in all directions so that it enclosed a great chunk of the desert. Only the grateful birds noticed that the shape of the cumulative dead had bloomed into a hill. They called upon The President of the United States. He soon called that hill Our Holy Mountain. Not everyone agreed with him, though they did agree that, because their meat was at risk of going senselessly to waste, this was no time to argue. They prided themselves on their good sense.

Months or years into their eating, they discovered black lizards climbing, crawling through, and chewing into their fence, so they began eating faster and faster, chewing lizards into their meat. Many of them, appreciating the new taste and texture in their mouths, ate with new verve. The more they ate, the taller Our Holy Mountain grew, though it seemed that no matter its height, numberless people still worked their teeth in the fence, so the meat would never go to waste.

The fence expanded outward in every direction, though more desert always appeared beyond it. Meat chunks scampered from their stomachs to their toes to their brains, all over and through their brains, visible through bald patches of scalp and under cheekskin. The sicker people grew, the more meat they spurted from both likely and unlikely orifices. It emerged dead and waxy from their ears, filmy and dead from their nostrils. The sick sometimes shook above their excrement. The healthy ate around them. They ate under every angle of moon and sun until the fence devolved into a roiling mass of black lizards, stacked but alive, crawling through and around and chewing into one another. People, ever sensible when presented with a free meal, ate them. The President of the United States declared the lizards more delicious than any meat he had ever eaten. Before double-fisting a pair of them he said that people had never been so blessed.

Then there were no birds and no lizards and no fence, only a flat, red desert, but people had no more heart for wandering. The President of the United States led them inward. They climbed and crawled through and chewed into Our Holy Mountain. They ate as their forefathers ate and as their children and children’s children eat to this day.

///

Marcus Pactor’s second book,  Begat Who Begat Who Begat, is forthcoming from Astrophil Press in Spring 2021. His first book,  Vs. Death Noises, won the 2011 Subito Press Prize for Fiction. His work has most recently appeared in  Queen Mob’s Teahouse, X-R-A-Y, Pithead Chapel, and Juked. He lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida.

Categories
Damien Ark Uncategorized

HOME

I LOVE YOU

 

I AM YOU

 

STAY LOST

 

FOUND

 

YOU WANT A PERFECT LIFE BUT WANT TO DIE

 

FOUND

 

STAY LOST

 

I’M SORRY.

 

Words are written on newly painted walls near the dumpster in the alley outside where D works. Under the balcony, a torn-up sofa turned over, two mattresses on the cement, another placed upwards against the mattress to form a better wall from people passing by. Another mattress on the other side, still above the balcony, below the door that leads out to the dumpster.

 

Social workers that are meant to help people that are homeless and have never been homeless go to take out the trash for the first time in a week. The outreach center reeks of wasted, rotten food that had been stockpiled in the refrigerators, never given out to anyone. So much food that’s donated goes to waste, dumped in plastic bags, tossed into a dumpster, and torn open like a buffet stand for those that are ten levels below Maslow’s Hierarchy. They say it smells like shit out there because people are shitting by the dumpster. And they’re pissing there too. They can’t comprehend why anyone would want to sleep near a dumpster. Seems like someone might even be living inside it. It’s made loud and clear that if they, these workers, lost everything, they’d never do anything of that nature, they’d never go that far as to eat, sleep, and shit near a dumpster.

Call the landlord tomorrow and see if he can have someone get rid of all the moldy furniture and force them into a different alleyway, like the one across the street, ‘Crack Alley’, they call it. He sees that same girl over there having meltdowns every week, flashing her tits at cars, selling herself for as little as fifteen dollars. They’re scared of her too. D holds conversations with her sometimes, even when she’s speaking word salad, flailing her arms around, tardive dyskinesia, screaming fuck shit in my pussy you can eat my ass out too bitch. Signed her up for housing, but who knows where the fuck that would go. A two-year waiting list? After his shift is over, he takes the leftover food that would’ve been kept in the fridge until it grows mold or begins to smell like shit, places the Styrofoam trays near the mattresses near the dumpster, along with hygiene items and papers with local resources. He continues down the alleys to leave more food in spots he knows people are sleeping at night.

Thought we were here to help these people. But you become what you hate. Get radicalized by your class status and sucked into judging everyone. Most of these workers, just older straight white upper-class women that had daddy pay for their degree. Sometimes a token, non-straight, or person of color, but still coming from a higher level of social status. Never anyone that’s lived the street life.

D tells his coworkers about how he used to live near places that had air-conditioning inside of dumpsters. Sleeping in an alley where anyone can walk on by, there’s a high chance that you’ll get beaten-up, raped, and killed, especially if you’re a woman, a young person, or noticeably transgender. Better to sleep in a bath of worms and rotten trash. Better to shit and piss and eat out of one too. You’d be surprised what you can find in a dumpster. He knows this because he’s experienced it. Not specifically living on a rain-soaked mattress in an alley, but sleeping in a broken car in the dead of winter while it’s snowing, windows broken, fearful of going home, might have an alcoholic uncle punch him in the stomach and the face or some shit. He’s eaten out of dumpsters too. Not so bad. Some of the food was still warm.

Various parts of the south side of are being renovated so quickly that one day D will see an abandoned store a couple of his clients were living in, now transformed into a well-designed, minimalist, pop-up location of bookstores, coffee shops, fusion food, even a craft brewery. Millions of dollars coming from a rich slumlord invented all of this. He might as well own the fucking city. On television, he told the media that his goal is to clean the streets of the homeless, the grime, so to say, and recreate it into new districts of fine dining and shopping for people that live on the west side, far out in their luxurious houses and mansions. Where people went during white flight, when they turned their dilapidating homes into rental spaces for the poor, then they thrived off of it. Carry that lynching history. The old market, gentrified and a best-known fine-dining spot of the city, is where they lynched a black man. Ignoring when the white supremacists burned an entire black community to the ground.

Camps are set up outside of homeless shelters. Outside of rehabs. In the woods. By train tracks. In small tight crevices under bridges that offer barely any room even to sit up. D listens to people complain about shit on the streets of San Francisco and gentrification but people ignore that it happens in their own fucking community. If the services here were any better, people wouldn’t travel so far out to the bay to seek help. People slam and smoke and snort just as much meth here as they do there, it’s just better hidden. Put a tent up in public and it’ll be slashed down by the end of the day. So you sleep in the woods with strangers, hoping you don’t wake up with someone on top of you. Take it or I’ll fucking kill you, knife to your throat as the stranger is thrusting, not knowing what disease he’s giving you. Maybe give you a fucking baby, too. Whatever. You’ve been raped and attacked so many times by so many people that you trusted that it means next to nothing now.

 

She sleeps in a shed with an emergency heat blanket D gave her a few days ago. Others are squatting in the bando, burned up two years ago, charcoal shithole ready to collapse any day now. She’s twenty-two now and her boyfriend is in his sixties, barely speaks any English. Sometimes he’s vanishing, out smoking meth in some other camp that took over a dilapidated children’s park. ‘Crack City,’ they call it. Not the people there, but the social workers that should be advocating for them. And oftentimes, she wakes up being raped, vaginally and anally, blood soaking up the jeans she’s been wearing for a week or two now. On her period too, to make it all worse. Schizophrenic, meth-addicted, suicidal, been homeless and seeking shelter in the arms of older men since she was sixteen, after her foster parents kicked her out when they found out she was into girls. Terminate her fucking rights and hand the child over to another broken system. Put her in a transitional living program with no case managers until she ages out and ends up homeless again. Wearing two heavy backpacks over her shoulders full of food and clothes, whatever she can get from agencies that won’t turn her away for being high on meth and speaking to voices. All of that help leads to this moment, with a stranger on top of her, bashing her head in, blood on both of their genitals.

Waiting on housing but not ready for it. Waiting on a system that’s going to let you slip through the cracks.

Heads out to Jones Street to wait around for men who are interested so she can make money for her next fix. Hopefully, they’ll be gentle, not too violent, give her the money she asks for, and she won’t get raped or killed by them.

D remembers giving her a ride. She lied, saying she was going to a friend, but once he pulled up on Jones Street, he knew what this meant. Didn’t want to be complicit in this shit. Felt betrayed, anger, something you shouldn’t feel for a client, but D is only twenty-three years old, how the fuck do you ethically handle this situation? D keeps driving and stops the car in a random parking lot. She argues to him. You don’t know what it’s like, this is what I have to do, there’s no other option for me, take me back, it’s hot, you’re seriously going to make me walk, you’ve never been raped as a kid or homeless or

And then the young social worker who hates his fellow worthless coworker’s snaps. You don’t think I know what you’ve been through? I’ve been the only one giving a shit about you since I first got hired. Everyone else, they think you’re impossible, there’s no sense in doing anything, but me, I still have hope in you. I know what it’s like to have been raped as a little kid for years and thrown out of your home, raped by strangers, abused by people you loved, I’ve lived that drug life, too, and I’ve seen enough shit in my life to know the outcomes of what you’re doing. You keep this shit up and you’re going to end up dead, not some fantasy overdose, but by the hands of some sex-offender that rapes you and shoots you to death and leaves your body in a ditch. You want to know why I say that? Because I’ve fucking seen it. Three fucking clients. Get out of the car. I’m not taking part in that shit. You can walk your fucking ass there and see where it gets you, but when you’re ready for help, I’ll be there. I’ll be there because I give a shit, I know these systems are broken, I’m fighting them too, and nobody else believes in you or gives a fuck. But I do. I do.

 

She’s couch surfing for a while and eventually finds a trap house that’ll take her in. Rented out apartment by this twenty-year-old couple in an abusive relationship, the four-year-old left unattended. The man goes to jail on domestic violence charges, she has an open CPS case for child abuse and using meth around her baby, so she leaves the apartment as well. Leaves the kid there. He can be watched over by the five or six meth heads squatting there.

A child that age shouldn’t know words like pipe, twist, and rock. When the neighbor brings the kid to D, he calls CPS and the police, staff said it should be him that does it and nobody else because he knows how to handle these kind of situations the best, and the kid shows them how to smoke meth out of a glass pipe properly. They find out that he’s been raped multiple times, too. Police get there and arrest everyone inside. Prostitutes helping pimps to help sex traffic children while selling meth and fentanyl-laced shit. A couple of months later, the mom goes to jail, a few more months pass, and the child is back in her hands. Daddy gets out of jail. The girl and the four-year-old boy have new bruises.

Who the fuck sold out my kid for drug money?

She sleeps in a shed, bit by spiders every night, sobbing her eyes out, tapping her forehead with an empty liquor bottle. One day, she’s walking down an alley and has the shit beat out of her by a group of gang members. The dad to the child was a crip, and when he found out who was letting his child get raped, he knew he’d have to teach her a lesson, even if he slapped and kicked the living fuck out of the kid himself from time to time.

 

The landlord comes by, everyone else that’s supposed to be here for their shift is missing, for who the fuck knows why. Landlord asks D about the mess by the dumpster and wants confirmation if they want it to be cleaned up.

Where else are they to piss and shit? For all he cares, they can shit in the center of all these newly gentrified streets. That’s not my decision. I’m not comfortable with that kind of power. You’ll need to speak to my boss about that.

 

Schizophrenic man that’s homeless knows that if his one spot is stripped from him, he can just walk down alleys and probably find used furniture sticking out a dumpster. He lifts it all out by himself and sets up his new spot, knowing that it’s temporary, like everything. Finds aluminum trays of food to go with it. When it rains, he strips naked and showers in it, using the worthless travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles that people donate to outreach centers and shelters. But it’s not his home for too long. Other people ban and barred from dry and wet shelters seek solace in his comfort as well. They put together nets to keep bugs away. Bucket for shit and piss. Few other people form a group further down the alley, sleeping on the pavement without any sleeping bags or blankets or mattresses, paranoid murals of underground Illuminati organizations painted on a garage wall behind them.

The city comes by and removes all the furniture. They paint over the graffiti again. Trash is left behind to dance across the alley, dirty clothes, empty hygiene bottles, a single blanket. These workers that D surrounds himself with, he knows they’ll come and go, replaced by others just as unprofessional and clueless of the population they’re serving. In a few months, adults banned and barred from shelters and young kids kicked out by their parents for not being straight will take over the alley again. Maybe they’ll set a space up on the roof like they did two years ago. Or pass over the gates and under a satellite tower.

 

D does what he can even when he’s told not to help people they’re not meant to serve. He begins to empathize with those he once hated. Men that beat women. Rapists. Hardcore drug addicts with severe and persistent mental illnesses who have no hope of ever getting housed or clean. Pedophiles. Gang members. Killers. All of them. He freezes in the middle of the hallway at work and begins to pray for what seems like an hour. Eyes closed. Bending his upper body forward, then back up again, knees bending, whispering prayers for hope, forgiveness, impossible peace, tears and snot soak his face. G-d, please, bring peace on their souls, help them see that there is hope and a future that isn’t filled with constant drugs and abuse and homelessness, that they can survive, G-d, help me to continue helping them, I don’t know how much longer I can do this anymore, I can’t even help myself, G-d, Jon, please show them that there’s more than this, that I can have hope and a future too. Feel so weak and powerless.

 

A nineteen-year-old girl is watching TV in her slum apartment when a group of men that want to beat the fuck out of her boyfriend break in and start breaking shit. They take turns raping her, kidnap her, and nobody knows where the fuck she is. She’s in the same tower, two stories up, getting drugged and raped for a whole week. People can hear, but nobody cares or is too scared to do anything. Just the way it is. Sewage leaks down the stairs and rats bathe in it. When they’re bored with her, she just goes back to her apartment, pushes the sofa against the door, sleeps with her boyfriend on it, and prays they’ll be safe until they can find a different shithole, another slum tower to hide inside of.

 

D paces around his apartment, walls painted black, stupid nasty fucking garbage apartment from a slumlord, all his money going to a man gentrifying the neighborhoods and streets that he works six days a week. There’s no other way out. Can’t make jack shit helping people so he starves and takes food from the pantry that he helps put together. Gets his essentials from there too. Smokes two bowls, blowing smoke out his window as it rains at night, and stares at PornHub, flaccid, waiting on approval notices that say he can own a gun. Bottles of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, benzos, something for nightmares, all on the nightstand. This time, nobody is here to protect him from himself.

There’s always somebody screaming down the hallway or banging on shit. People conversing outside his door. Always smells like weed. Slumlord won’t let him add locks to the door, even with people constantly breaking into all the apartments.

D puts his two-week notice in. He continues dropping leftover food off in the alleys that are spattered with shit and reek of piss. Shares jokes with them. Tries to offer them some sense of hope. Tells them where his necklace came from, from his boyfriend that has gone to heaven, and yes, he wears his yarmulke proudly.

Nobody needs to know his name and what he’s done. Never did any of this for himself. He sells his books, wipes his computer clean, and sinks into his bed, one last time. At home. Not the one he wanted, the one he had no choice but to take. Thinking that the world is one big dumpster as he drifts to sleep, kissing the heavenly white abyss.

///

Damien Ark is a self-taught outsider writer that specializes in transgressive LGBT+ work. Damien has no degrees in literature and has taken no workshops. Their first novel, Fucked Up, will be out by Expat Press in 2020. You can locate their work on their Neutral Spaces page below and they can be solely contacted through Twitter.
https://neutralspaces.co/damienark/
https://twitter.com/damien_ark  

Categories
Elizabeth Aldrich Uncategorized

ACTUAL FICTION

I remember him in all of the ways I don’t want to, sensory detail that climbs up through my dreams until I’m gagging with the taste of gun oil on my sheets come morning. My friends all said he was cute. I remember my babysitters flirting with him while he came over and snuck them some cans of beer to take home with the leftover pizza we’d ordered for dinner. They were boycrazy, but he was a grown man. He was supposed to be my father, this one patched in over the hole left behind by the one who left my mother before. He was a cop, and my babysitters would beg him to drive them home in the deputy car with the lights all red and blue and the siren blaring loud through our small, tornado bait town. He always complied. He was different than the other dads, my babysitters would tell me, with eyes starry stoned and stupidly lovestruck. He had some sort of soldering gun used for intricate metal work, and the kitchen stunk like burnt hair on the night when those girls burned his name into their skin, crooked calligraphy along the blue veins of their ankles. A heart with an arrow.

He never smoked, but I remember him like an alarm. He was a poorly maintained bonfire, given all the power and tools to contain himself, but never doing so. Mr. Sheriff’s Deputy, he slipped out of handcuffs and DUI charges as easily as he would later slip into my bed. A demon with a badge, and I hate the color of tan uniforms in the same way that I hate the smell of Bud Light and gun oil. I hate Navajo turquoise, because that is the color he painted that bookshelf he made for my mother that final summer before I ran away from home, and I hate purple because that was the color he left on my mother for my twelfth birthday when I stayed out too late.

When I see televangelist preachers on television, I think about that night he went up to the pulpit in front of the whole town to see. He proclaimed himself a sinner, and he begged to be saved. I watched the pastor lay hands on him, they shouted the Devil out, and I guess that was really the last time I hoped or believed in much of anything because it was all a big joke to him. But he put on a good show. I cried happy for him and everything, I believed with all the blind naivete of a child. He shot my dog three days later, and I remember that blood doesn’t look anything like those vampire movies promised me it would. The gore slick bottom of that doghouse looked like rust, not red. It smelled like old pennies and rot until he burned it.

The last thing I remember about him is the sound of his voice. It is a railroad spike in my stomach, because sometimes I answer the blocked number when he calls. I forget he exists, however briefly, and I stupidly answer. He won’t ever let me forget, though. Not really. Which is fine, I don’t want to forget. Because I carry him around with me like a cursed object, I carry him with me like a phantom limb or the secret knowledge of poison already swallowed. I carry him with me because the memories protect me as much as destroy me. Protection not from myself, but from all the things that matter, like people who smell of gun oil and Bud Light.

///

Elizabeth Aldrich is the author of the forthcoming novel Ruthless Little Things via Expat Press 2020 and writes fiction in a messy room in the San Fernando Valley. Please stalk her vigilantly at @eris_rlt. Former Lusty Lady San Francisco peepshow girl.

Categories
Calvin Westra Uncategorized

NEVER WORK A DAY

You have to be your own boss, he says. He smiles and there is blood on his teeth. He tells me that he has been rich and he has been not-rich but he has never been poor. He is telling me poor is a mentality while coughing into his sleeve.

He is saying you never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you do. He is making a smoothie for a twelve-year-old while he says this. He is setting the finished smoothie on the counter and ringing it up. He’s staring at the cash register, blinking, swallowing. He’s telling me you never work a day in your life, inhaling deeply, if you do what you love. Cough.

You have to be in business for yourself, he tells me. I watch him restock the coolers. You can’t sit around or be lazy, he says. It displays weakness, a lack of energy. There are days you pay in knee cartilage, arterial decay.

It’s all about living right, he says, breathing heavily. You have to live right and treat people right and do good. And if you do that, he says, the universe will do good to you too. His hand tremors.

You can’t be afraid to work, he tells me. He uses his arms to drag his body through the door, defying physics and sense. There are small streaks of blood everywhere that will be mopped without anyone mentioning.

You can’t ever slow down. He’s sixty-seven and he’s never felt better. He tells me this. His breath is gasoline. His teeth spilling out of his mouth, dried bloody hair falling from his head to his shoulders and then the floor.

Customers buy drinks and he is restocking the coolers immediately, pulling things forward, facing the drinks. He eats a stale muffin and stumbles to the cooler for a Coca Cola, choking, his mouth dry and crusted with muffin crumbs. He tries to breathe but can’t. Coca Cola. A gasp. He’s breathing again.

You have to know what you want and go out and get it. You have to shake off rejection. Focus on the positive. Be prepared for the worst outcome. Stay committed.

People ask if he is okay and other people say he is. Collusive glances, worried mouths, headshakes.

He is late sometimes, he forgets things. He is given lists, instructions, reminders. Buy more muffins. It’s always muffins. He eats a muffin and washes it down with a Coca Cola. He is misremembering things. He is sweaty all the time.

You have to know a little first aid, he tells me, licking the thumb he sliced open. He is slicing bread, preparing sandwiches. His knife hand rattles and he cuts himself again. He finishes the sandwiches and wipes a little blood off the turkey and provolone. He wraps them in wax paper and hands them to the customers.

He takes aspirin a handful at a time. His tiny, watery eyes twitch. Know what you want out of life, he warns. Don’t chase someone else’s dream.

Can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. One of his favorite phrases. He punches numbers into the cash register with bloody, bandaged fingers.

You have to love what you do.

He holds the counter to steady himself.

People remind him there is a catering event for forty-five people. Forty-five sandwiches. Coffee for forty-five.

He’s moving, he’s on his feet, he’s wobbling, he’s trying to find his balance, he’s falling, he’s through the door, he’s staggering towards his car with coffee and sandwiches under his arms.

You have to help me, he says. You have to drive me, you have to lift me, you have to take these sandwiches.

His phone is buzzing on the hot asphalt next to him.

You’ve got to learn to love the heat, he says.

\\\

Calvin Westra drives a 2012 Mercedes GLK 350 4matic. It gets 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.